How Do You Know It Is Time To Leave?

By Thom S. Rainer

I would never pretend to know the will of God for leaders. Indeed I am reticent even to suggest these reasons lest someone grasp one or more and leave his or her position of leadership prematurely.

Nevertheless I interviewed dozens of leaders I respect. One of the simple questions I asked them was: How did you know it was time to leave your previous position of leadership?

Their responses were fascinating. I have attempted to synthesize their most frequent answers into five succinct reasons. Excluded are those situations where a leader was forced from his position.

1. The Death of a Vision

The most frequent response was the death of a vision for the leader. The reasons the vision died were numerous. One leader said the obstacles in the organization became so great that he could no longer lead with vision. Another said that entrenched policies of the organization were counter to his vision. In every case the leader felt grief because the vision that caused him to get up each morning with enthusiasm was no longer a reality.

2. An Awakening to the Bad Fit

Some leaders come to a point in their leadership where they realize that they do not have the skills, temperament, or desires to lead their organization. Many said that the organization changed after a period of time, and their profile no longer matched the position. Others noted that they had not kept pace with external changes sufficiently to lead effectively.

3. Losing a Power Struggle

One of the unfortunate realities of leadership is the power struggle with another leader or group. And if a battle is lost, it is often difficult to regain the stature necessary to lead effectively.

4. Family Issues

A number of leaders told us they made the decision to leave for the sake of their families. The specific family issues were almost as numerous as the respondents. One leader recalled the sad story of his son being bullied at the only school in the small community. Despite his pleas and protestations to teachers and administrators, the bullying continued. The leader left for the safety and sanity of his son.

5. The Vision “There” Is Greater than the Vision “Here”

I thought this reason would be the most frequent; instead it ranked fifth among the reasons to leave. Stated simply, the leader has another opportunity, and the vision for the new opportunity becomes greater than the vision of the present opportunity. The leader’s heart has already moved to another place.

This list is obviously not exhaustive. Why did you leave your previous place of leadership? Would your response fit within one of these five categories?

Life is too short to spend time in a place we shouldn’t be. Yes, transition can be difficult, and even risky. But the greater risk is wasting our lives in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sometimes it’s time to leave.


This article comes from Baptist Press. Copyright (c) 2012 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press. Used by permission.


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Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer

Thom S. Rainer serves as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. Among his greatest joys are his family: his wife Nellie Jo; three sons, Sam,  Art, and Jess; and seven grandchildren. Dr. Rainer can be found on Twitter @ThomRainer and at